From Cyprus to Fukushima and back via Moscow in 5 days, what a mission – no one ever said this tour would be easy and just getting this far was enough. This project, ‘From Cyprus to Fukushima’ is a huge learning experience for me. More than anything it’s shown that even the impossible, fundraising for a cause in Japan from deep economic crisis ridden Cyprus is possible, and doing this online through gofundme.com was also a big education. This is what this first blog is about, how I think we did it ( I say think as this is not a scientific study – so there’s obviously different ways of seeing things) and what worked and how. What follows really is a set of reflections on my experience of doing this, from the deepest Mediterranean to a faraway land where things are so different that event the sun rises in the East.
I have never tried to fundraise online and more than anything going through gofundme.com demystified many things. For a start it’s very simple to set up, administer and promote. At the same time, I realized that sitting around online and asking people to donate was not enough. The campaign needed an offline existence in what we know as the real world.
This is characteristic of so many aspects of our social media dominated environments. We visit places, people, go to events, experience things and document them through our web pages, our little cyber ‘gardens’ which are cultivated with images, stories, videos and ramblings on so many things.
So taking this into account people had to also relate to the idea of two Cyprus based Reggae artists, Med Dred and Haji Mike, going on tour in Fukushima with Reggae artists there, and seeing, living, feeling what was actually going on at a grass roots level. I think this was the most important thing. I know people on various web sites offer insights and advice on campaigns through gofundme, indiegogo and kickstarter and they call this element ‘the pitch’. When I did my research on what site to choose, I found this whole pitching idea to be problematic. Pitching for me reeks of marketing, selling products, persuading people to believe to some degree or other in mythical things. I prefer to see this more as an issue of straight up empathy and solidarity.
Over 200 tons of nuclear waste have been pumped out very day since March 11th 2011 from the Daiichi Nuclear reactor plant in Fukushima, which malfunctioned following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Some people say it will take over 40 years to clear the radiation up but I feel it will take centuries because when you mess around with nature like this, when people play around with the environment, eco-systems and the health of the public, nature will simply mess right back in a variety of painful and tragic ways.
I also want to share how this connection happened. As artists making Reggae music from Cyprus we were very moved when our friend Leo Kojima of Direct Impact Music in Japan invited us to participate in a charity concert for the victims of the Fukushima disaster. I ‘met’ Leo online as ‘Jahvaneez’ from Keep It Real Studio and Direct Impact. Straight after the disaster in Fukushima the label established an initiative called the L.I.F.E Movement who’s main aim was the recording of a CD with artists who survived Fukushima. Leo put out a message on Facebook asking artists around the world to contribute jingles of solidarity, which I did, and so began our friendship and collaboration. You can check the L.I.F.E CD here, and specifically the song ‘Rise Again’
Moving back to the process itself, that online and offline existence, it was generally very hard and intensive work. I had to first work out a fund raising target that was realistic and sensitive to the actual needs of the context of Cyprus in a deep economic crisis. One person even told me I was crazy to think Cypriots would be concerned with Fukushima ‘when they did not have food to eat.’ Knowing full well the depth of the crisis I decided from the outset that the campaign has to appeal to an international audience, and the only way this could be achieved was through the internet. It was important as well to be realistic about the funding target. Setting it originally to 3,400 euros, to cover the cost of 2 air tickets, hotel accommodation and transport expenses in Japan for 5 days, I soon realized this was not achievable. After three works of blitzing people online through Facebook, Twitter and personal emails we had raised about 800 euros, not enough really to cover 1 air ticket. I then decided to make things come to life, through events at The University of Nicosia and Scarabeo donation cans in various locations, music shops, schools, a friend’s busy coffee bar and personal donations. It was also important have a media presence in the traditional media. This was hard to achieve without a publicist or PR person working on the project full time but we did get on CyBC2 with Nathan Morley and The Cyprus Mail ran a feature.
I know all this seems so old skool, but it worked. I also thought about lowering the benchmark for funding. Originally I found air tickets via Etihad, at over a thousand euros each. I also approached the airline for sponsorship. This was not successful, being the end of the year, they had used all their sponsorship funds. So I looked for alternative routes and airlines. Funnily enough the cheapest route to Japan was a Cyprus and British Airways flight via London. This also included a 30 hour wait between planes on the way back. I then checked Aeroflot via Moscow. This was about 40% cheaper than Etihad so even with 800 euros raised one of us could go. I contemplate this, doing the tour on my own and it was a hard decision to take, but at one point this is how it looked. Then something interesting started to happen. As some substantial personal donations came in, mainly from The University of Nicosia, over that weekend, we went from 800 to 1,500 euros. This was a very significant leap. One that made things more feasible, and more real for both of us to go to Japan. I phoned Med Dred and simply said ‘I am coming round to book your ticket’ this was 5 days before we flew out. I could feel the joy in his voice. What made this work really was this combination of an online campaign with a visible presence, through events, donation cans, media exposure and word of mouth. It was something which we both lived and breathed 24/7. And each time something happened it had to be documented and shared online. Our friends in Japan had regular Facebook message updates. People who had donated and people in our friend’s lists online could see pictures and videos from say an event at Scarabeo’s State of Reggae or The University of Nicosia,literally appear as they were happening. This led to more people commenting, posting, interacting, talking about things. Even negative talk was talk. Everything happened because we did not just sit on our PC’s and MAC’s and mobile phones and simply say please ‘like’ or say you are coming to our event. How many times have we all done this as musicians in the last few years. Book a venue, create an event page on Facebook and invite 1,500 of people, of which say 350 say ‘yes’ and only 15-50 turn up. The reason is simple. People have to talk about something, they have to have different ways of engaging with it before it happens. It could be anything, even something as simple as ‘the band will be at so and so’s music shop this Saturday to meet and greet fans’. A lot of us have forgotten that basic thing, human contact, communication, reasoning, whatever you want to call it. Blogs, podcasts and videos, also add to the mix….
‘The Clash’ one of my favourite bands of all time always had this link with their audiences. You could go backstage and say meet Joe Strummer (RiP). Or if they cancelled a gig, they would go out there and talk to people, to fans, and cause some mayhem outside the venue. And they were a band who always had something to say, on and off the stage.
I also think it’s a reciprocal thing. Someone makes a donation, you thank them online via the gofundme page, or you drop them an email, a personal message on Facebook, call them on the phone or at visit their office for a warm handshake. I also gave gifts to people donating at some of the events, say an old CD, or vinyl I had released. Everything counts.
So in a nutshell, ‘From Cyprus To Fukushima’ only worked because people around the world became engaged with us and the idea. These links and connections happened back and forth, online, offline, online, offline and the gofundme site was just like the hub for all this to happen. Everyone who contributed large or small, made it happen for us, and for that we will be eternally thankful. We wanted to do so much more, but this is only the start of something which will continue between people, artists, musicians, creators in Cyprus and Japan.